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Issue 48
, 2014
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50m tonnes of e-waste generated every year and it is increasing

Source: The Guardian, Date: , 2014

Better links between designers, manufacturers and recyclers are needed to stem the tide of electronic junk

The developing world is becoming the west's digital dumping ground. Every year around 50m tonnes of unwanted electronic devices make their way to vast e-waste dumps in Guiyu in China and Agbogbloshie in Ghana often illegally.


Some of them will be repaired and resold. Others will be broken into their components, at considerable expense to the environment and people's health, and sold as raw materials to manufacturers. Yet more will be left as piles of toxic litter.

The absurdity of manufacturing a device in China, shipping it around the world to a European consumer and then, when it is disposed of, shipping it straight back to an e-waste dump close to where it was built is not lost on the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC), a group of organisations that promote green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry. "We're buying more, getting rid of it [more quickly] and design changes are, in some ways, making recycling even more challenging," says Barbara Kyle, the ETBC's UK co-ordinator.


In fact, only around 13% of the e-waste generated each year is recycled. The increasing amounts of digital tech brought by middle-class consumers in China, India and Africa is a growing part of the problem. If the trend continues, the annual amount of global e-waste will be 65m tonnes by 2017, according to the STEP initiative (also known as solving the e-waste problem). Couple this with shortages of some rare earth metals and other resources from mining operations, and it is clear that something needs to change.

Part of the solution involves "closing the loop", which in this context means reclaiming and reusing valuable materials from discarded devices in an ethical, environmentally friendly way. Schemes aimed at building connections between designers, manufacturers and end-of-life disposal companies are springing up in response.

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